ABU DHABI // Hundreds of private company owners, senior staff and managers gathered at a Ministry of Labour seminar yesterday, many worried that new labour regulations will result in them losing employees.
A number of changes, including lifting the need for a No Objection Certificate, removing the six-month ban on employees seeking new jobs and reducing contract length from three to two years, will take effect from Saturday.
Humaid bin Deemas al Suwaidi, the undersecretary for the ministry, said: "We did a study and found that 70 per cent of employees end their contracts before completing the three years."
However, some of the company representatives who gathered yesterday expressed concern. "After this news came out, our employees started threatening that they can leave as soon as their contracts are finished and not worry about the six-month ban," said Naima, an engagement administrator from an audit company in Abu Dhabi who did not want to give her last name.
"We used to have control over them, and we knew it wasn't easy from them to go, now we will lose this control."
Others expressed concern that dropping a year on labour contracts would cost them in increased end-of-service payments. Previously, companies were not bound to pay end-of-service payments for employees who left before their three years were up.
"This is really bad news, this means we will have to pay our employees their end of service payments at the end of their contracts after two years," said Mohamed, a manager at an airline, who also did not want to give his last name. "We didn't have to pay much before because they always left before the three years. This means we will lose a lot."
Mr al Suwaidi explained that the ministry's goal is for the labour market to be more flexible and for the country to use existing qualified people rather than hiring from abroad - particularly those who have a secondary school or college diploma or a university degree.
The managers also expressed concern over the ministry's new classification system, announced this month as part of the new regulations.
The system fits companies into five categories, with those making it into the top tier proving they have hired at least 20 per cent skilled workers, 15 per cent of whom are Emirati. As an incentive, the cost of securing each employee a labour card would be just Dh300 - dramatically lower than the thousands of dirhams per employee companies will be charged at the lower levels.
Mr al Suwaidi said companies had until July 1 next year to meet the requirements. Naimasaid doing so would be impossible for her company - particularly when it comes to hiring Emiratis.
"We interviewed 35 locals recently, none of them liked the hours, or the work or any of the hardships," she said.
"And our company employees are all highly skilled workers, so how can we, say out of 1,000, employ 150 locals when no one wants to, we will never get into the top category, it is not in our hands."